Chapter VIII

The Battle of Brandywine

 

in all details then needed, was sent by Lieut.-Col. Ross, of the Eighth Pennsylvania, to Gen. Sullivan, and by him in turn forwarded to Gen. Washington:

"Great Valley Road,
"11 o'clock a.m.
"Dear General, - A large body of the enemy, from every account 5000, with 16 or 18 field-pieces marched along this road just now. The road leads to Taylor's Ferry & Jeffries' Ferry on the Brandywine, & to the Great Valley, at the Sign of the Ship, on Lancaster road to Philadelphia. There is also a road from the Brandywine to Chester, by Dilworthtown. We are close in their rear, with about 70 men. Capt. Simpson lay in ambush with 20 men & gave them 3 rounds within a small distance, in which two of his men were wounded; one mortally. I believe General Howe is with this party, as Joseph Galloway is here known by the inhabitants with whom he spoke, & told them that Gen. Howe was with them.
Yours,
"James Ross, Lieut-Col."

Washington at once ordered Gen. Sullivan to cross the Brandywine and engage this division, to keep it employed, as it was the purpose of the commander-in-chief to attack the Hessian general immediately, shatter his command, and capture his baggage-train before the left wing, comprising the greater part of the British army, could retrace their steps and come to his relief. Gen. Greene was also directed to cross above Chad's Ford, in order to strike Knyphausen on the left flank. That officer, with the celerity of movement that was a conspicuous trait in his military character, promptly sent his advance guard across the stream at Brinton's Ford, where Sullivan's command lay, and was prepared to follow with his command. The commander-in-chief was to remain with Wayne, who was to cross the Brandywine at Chad's Ford in the face of the enemy. The fog which had clung to the earth in the early morning had vanished before the scorching sun, not yet midday high, and by noon this decisive movement would have been made, when the following note was delivered to Washington:

"Brenton Ford,
"Sept. 11.
"Dear General: - Since I sent you the message by Major Moore, I saw Major Spear of the militia, who came this morning from a tavern called Martin's, at the fork of the Brandywine. He came from thence to Welch's Tavern, & heard nothing of the enemy about the fork of the Brandywine, & is confident they are not in that quarter; so that Col. Hazen's information must be wrong. I have sent to that quarter to know whether there is any foundation for the report, & shall give your excellency the earliest information.
"I am, etc.,
"John Sullivan."

The bearer of this dispatch was followed by Maj. Spear, who was sent by Gen. Sullivan to Washington to verbally make his report to the commander-in-chief, and this intelligence was speedily supplemented by a similar statement made by Sergeant Tucker, of the Light-Horse. These tidings were of the utmost consequence to the American general, for they argued that Cornwallis had merely moved off as a ruse de guerre, and that both wings of the British army were in supporting distance of each other. Hence the orders for crossing the creek were countermanded. Gen. Greene's advanced detachment was withdrawn, and the American army again resumed its former position. Washington, however, instructed Col. Bland to proceed to the extreme right and reconnoitre above the forks.

When the British invaded Chester County, Justice Thomas Cheyney, who was an outspoken Whig, was advised to absent himself from his dwelling in Thornbury, and to avoid personal danger he withdrew to the home of his relative, Col. John Hannum, at "Centre House," now the village of Marshallton, located between the East and West Branches of the Brandywine. Here Cheyney had passed the night of Sept. 10, 1777, and the next morning he, with Hannum, started to visit the American camp at Chad's Ford. As they rode along the highway near Trimble's Mill and Ford, on the West Branch, in descending the hill they saw a large body of soldiers, their scarlet uniforms designating them as British troops, descending the hills opposite. Halting, they watched the direction in which the column moved, and saw that it was making towards Jefferies' Ford, on the East Branch, their polished arms flashing and glittering in the sultry September sun. Having ascertained that fact, for a moment the two men consulted as to the course they should pursue, and finally it was decided that immediate intelligence of the presence of the British force at this point must be conveyed to Washington. Cheyney being mounted on a fleet hackney, - Dr. Harvey tells me it was a sorrel pacing mare, - started off in the direction of the American headquarters at a rapid pace, followed by Hannum, whose horse being less speedy was soon distanced, notwithstanding the squire turned the scales at two hundred pounds.1

1 Futhey and Cope's "History of Chester County," p. 586.

Washington was seated under a cherry-tree which then stood - now blown down years ago - on the gentle declivity south of the road which leads to the crossing at Chad's Ford, when he saw a stout-built man without a hat, riding a sorrel horse, which jumped the fences that stood in the direction he was coming across the fields to where Washington was. It was Cheyney, who, having first reported to Sullivan his tidings, had been so discourteously received that be inquired and was told where Washington himself was to be found. The latter listened as the squire related what he had seen, and, as the chieftain seemed to hesitate, Cheyney exclaimed, "By h-ll, it is so!" and dismounting, he picked up a twig, drew a sketch on the ground of the upper roads, describing how the British passed the fords of the forks of the Brandywine, and where the enemy would probably be at that time. So accurately was this information imparted, that notwithstanding it was most unwelcome news, the general was reluctantly convinced of its truth. Some of his staff-officers, however, spoke sneeringly of the report made by the justice, and the excited man with an oath said to Washington, "If you doubt my word, sir, put me under guard till you ask Anthony

 

« Previous Page (Page 57)     Next Page (Page 59) »
Ashmead's "History of Delaware County" Homepage
Delaware County History Homepage